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Published on June 23, 2020

5 Ways Mindful Breathing Calms Your Nerves

5 Ways Mindful Breathing Calms Your Nerves

It seems like the world gets more complex every day. Our jobs become more demanding, our family’s needs become greater, and now we realize that a pandemic can turn our lives upside down in just a matter of days. All this increasing stress is putting our nerves on edge.

Some people have learned how to deal with stress more effectively than others. Those who haven’t need a quick and effective way to calm their nerves. Fortunately, there is a way. It’s called mindful breathing.

You may have already heard of mindful breathing, but maybe you’re not sure how it can help, or how to practice it. In this article, I’m going to share with you 5 ways mindful breathing can calm your nerves and help you relax. Then I’ll show you how simple the practice is and how quickly it works, so you can be more at ease during stressful times.

1. Calm Your Mind

One of the ways that mindful breathing calms your nerves is by calming your mind[1]. By calming your mind, you reduce the traffic jam in your mind that makes you restless and anxious. It helps you see yourself and the world with greater clarity by bringing you back to the present moment, where all life is taking place.

Many of us have a racing mind that seems almost impossible to slow down. Notice how I said “almost impossible.” The truth is that calming your mind is easier than you might think. It is actually more natural for our mind to be at rest than it is to be agitated. By sitting quietly and doing mindful breathing, you allow your mind to settle down naturally.

2. Calm Your Emotions

Mindful breathing calms your emotions in two ways. First, by calming your mind, you reduce the number of thoughts that trigger your emotions. Second, with a calm mind you see things with greater clarity, so you process events in your life with a more realistic perspective. Let’s examine these two ways a little bit more.

Our emotions are the result of the way we process events and information. Emotions are always preceded by our thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious. So, by calming your mind through mindful breathing, you simply reduce the number of thoughts that produce emotions.

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And since mindful breathing allows you to see the world with greater clarity, you’ll be able to see things differently. You’ll change the programming in your mind that leads to the stressful emotions. On a deeper level, you’ll be more objective in your analysis of information and events. You’ll also see that many things that happen in your life have nothing to do with you personally, so you won’t attach any emotions to them to begin with.

3. Calm Your Body

Mindful breathing also helps calm your body. One of the ways it does this is by relaxing your muscles and controlling the production of noradrenaline, a stress hormone[2]. When you breathe mindfully, your brain sends a signal to your muscles that it’s OK to relax. This is an instinctive reaction that we’ve developed through the evolution of our species. We’ll examine this in more detail below.

Another way that mindful breathing calms your body is through a synergy between the mind, body, and emotions. As you calm any one of these three areas, each will have a calming influence on the other. Think about it for a moment. You can’t have a calm mind with a tense body, or a calm mind with wildly erratic emotions. All three work together.

4. Trigger the Relaxation Response

There are also physiological reasons mindful breathing helps you relax. The body reacts to mindful breathing in what is called the “Relaxation Response.” The term was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, author, cardiologist, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute.

You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response, where humans react to stressful situations by fighting or running away. Well, the Relaxation Response is basically the opposite reaction. It is a way for us to relax when we are under excessive stress[3].

Remember, stress is a necessary response to tense situations where we have to deal with dangerous or critical situations. However, when we are under constant pressure from our environment, that reaction to stress will persist indefinitely, and this is dangerous to our health. This is where we can use mindful breathing to trigger the Relaxation Response.

In the Relaxation Response, what happens is that your metabolism decreases, breathing slows, heart rate slows, muscles relax, and blood pressure decreases. When you do deep breathing, oxygen supply to the brain increases, and this stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls energy expenditure, heart rate, and intestinal activity, among other functions[4]. This is largely what promotes a state of calmness when you practice mindful breathing and meditation[5].

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Another way by which breathing helps you relax is by stimulating the brain to release endorphins, the hormones that give you a feeling of calm and well-being. The way it works is that when you take a deep breath, your heart rate quickens slightly, and when you exhale, your heart rate slows down. When you do this repeatedly, your breath and heart rate will become in sync, which triggers the release of the endorphins[6].

5. Improve Your Health

Most of us take our breathing for granted. We never think about our breathing until we have some difficulty or ailment. But did you know that how you breathe, and how much, can have a significant impact on your health?

Deep Breathing

In a long-term study, researchers found that the greatest indicator of life span wasn’t factors that they had predicted, such as genetics, or diet and nutrition, but rather lung capacity. That is, the larger the lungs, the longer the life spans. They found that with larger lungs you can draw in more air, which leads to better circulation, and less wear and tear on the body.

Researchers have also discovered that greater lung capacity is associated with lower stress levels, less anxiety, and fewer incidences of depression and other mental disorders.

People with larger lungs take slower and longer breaths, so they naturally receive the benefits associated with greater lung capacity. However, this doesn’t mean that those of us with lower lung capacity can’t avail ourselves of the same benefits.

We can train ourselves to take deeper and slower breaths. This is where mindful breathing comes in. Instead of taking short and shallow breaths, make a conscious effort to take a slower and longer breath through your nose, then let it out at the same pace. Try this for a few minutes, and you should experience a calming effect, especially if you’re particularly tense.

Studies have also shown that deep, slow breathing can, in some cases, heal various respiratory ailments, such as asthma, allergies, and even emphysema and autoimmune diseases. There are various other methods and techniques to help you increase your lung capacity[7].

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Breathing Through Your Nose

Another interesting thing that researchers found is that it makes a big difference if you breathe through your nose vs. your mouth. They found that breathing through your mouth can lead to neurological disorders, periodontal disease, and higher risk of respiratory infection. And if that’s not enough, mouth breathing increases your blood pressure, snoring, sleep apnea, stress level, and lowers cognitive function.

Through nose breathing, you will absorb 18% more oxygen, so you can significantly lower your risk of developing these health problems. The way to make nose breathing a habit is to make a conscious effort to do it. That is, practice mindful breathing[8].

How to Practice Mindful Breathing

There are various breathing techniques that revolve around mindful breathing. Here I am going to discuss mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is essentially mindful breathing. In a mindfulness meditation session, you generally sit quietly following your breath. The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to train ourselves to be in the present moment and observe what is happening in ourselves and the world around us. Since the breath is always taking place in the present moment, we use it as our anchor.

Here are some basic mindfulness meditation instructions:

Find a quiet place where you will not disturbed for a few minutes. Sit in a chair with your back straight, feet flat on the floor, and your hands in a comfortable position. Gently close your eyes, and begin observing your breath. When a stray thought or outside distraction interrupts your concentration, don’t dwell on it, then gently bring your attention back to your breath.

As you breathe, make a conscious effort to breathe through your nose. Occasionally, take a few deep breaths. Remember to inhale slowly, and exhale slowly. Don’t try to breathe like this for the whole session if you’re not used to it, as you may hyperventilate.

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If you’re new to mindfulness meditation, you can start by doing it for about 5-10 minutes at a time. As you get more comfortable with the practice, you can increase your session time to 15-20 minute. I would suggest practicing regularly, such as 4-5 times a week, or every day if you like. The idea is to have some consistency and commitment in order for it to stick, and for you to receive the health benefits.

Take a Break

Another thing you can do is to periodically take a short break and practice mindful breathing. All you have to do is momentarily stop whatever you’re doing, take 3-5 mindful breaths, then resume what you were doing. This should only take a few seconds. The great thing about this mindful breathing technique is that it keeps your mind from getting too agitated, so you can remain calm most of the time.

You can also practice mindful breathing during idle times, such as when you’re waiting in line, or waiting for an appointment. This is a great way to make good use of that time.

Final Thoughts

If you’re like most people, your life has become more complex and stressful as you’ve built a family and advanced in your career. As the demands on your life have increased, so has your stress level.

Many of us never learn how to relax until we’re overwhelmed and stressed out. The good news is that the simple mindful breathing techniques described above are highly effective and work quickly. Furthermore, they also don’t take much time to practice.

You don’t have to let the demands on your life keep your nerves on edge. Not only can you reduce your stress level with mindful breathing, but you can also keep it from rising in the first place.

More Tips on Mindful Breathing

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Greater Good Magazine: What Focusing on the Breath Does to Your Brain
[2] Search Inside Yourself: Why Mindful Breathing Benefits Mind and Body
[3] Psychology Today: Dr. Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response
[4] Science Daily: Parasympathetic nervous system
[5] The American Institute of Stress: Take a Deep Breath
[6] Neurocore: Does Deep Breathing Really Do Anything?
[7] Lung Health Institute: How to Increase Lung Capacity in 5 Easy Steps
[8] The Wall Street Journal: The Healing Power of Proper Breathing

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Charles A. Francis

Author, meditation teacher, and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute

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Last Updated on November 18, 2020

50 Habits of Highly Successful People You Should Learn

50 Habits of Highly Successful People You Should Learn

If you’re like me and really into self-development, you’ve probably read many of the thousands of self-help books out there on the market. But also like me, you probably find all the information a bit overwhelming.

That’s why I wanted to do the self-less task of taking the most important, life-changing lessons I’ve drawn from these books and condensed them into 50 key points.

Here’re 50 habits of successful people you should learn:

1. Believe It to See It

Our minds tend to focus on what’s happening around us and refuse to see what could happen. Only when you trust in what’s possible and dare to dream big, big things can happen for you.

2. See Problems as a Wonderful Gift

While others only see problems and give up, successful people use the problem as a lesson to find improvement in themselves or the task at hand.

3. Keep Looking for Solutions

Even if they’re knee-deep in problems, successful people will still put all of their focus on finding solutions.

4. Remember It’s All About the Journey

Successful people are conscious and methodical in creating their own success. They don’t sit around doing the bare minimum, hoping success finds them.

5. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

There’s so much fear on the road to success, but instead of letting that fear control and limit them, successful people do a good job of just forging ahead regardless.

6. Always Ask Productive Questions

It’s all about asking the right questions. Successful people make sure they are questions that will elicit information for a more productive, creative and positive mindset moving forward.

7. Understand the Best Waste of Energy Is Complaining

Successful people know that choosing to see the negative side of things will only create a useless and unproductive state.

8. Don’t Play the Blame Game

Taking responsibility for actions and outcomes is a form of empowerment that you can build your success upon. While the act of blaming others or outside circumstances takes this empowerment away from you.

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9. Maximize Your Strengths

Not every successful person is simply more talented than the rest, but they do use what they know they’re good at to achieve more successful results.

10. Be in It to Win It

Successful people are busy, productive and proactive. Instead of sitting around over-thinking and over-planning a great idea, they just take a step towards it no matter how small.

11. Know That Success Attracts Success

People who are successful surround themselves and seek out like-minded people. They understand the importance of being part of a team and forge win-win relationships.

12. Actually Choose to Be Successful

Dreaming big is a massive part of being successful even if your dream seems impossible. Ambition is a mindset that needs to be a daily conscious choice.

13. Visualize, Visualize, Visualize!

You’ve got to see your success in your mind’s eye even before it comes. Successful people clarify and get that certainty about what they want their reality to look like rather than being mere spectators of life.

14. Be a One-Off Original

Successful people look for what’s working and then create a unique spin on it. Imitating only regurgitates other people’s ideas with no originality.

15. The Perfect Time to Act Is Now

Waiting for the right time to act is basically procrastination wrapped up in an excuse. Successful people know there’s never a perfect time so they may as well just do it now.

16. Keep Learning, Keep Growing

Continuous learning is the key to a successful life. Whether it’s academic, being a student of life or actionable learning, it’s all about expanding your knowledge and personal development.

17. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Successful people have the knack for finding positive aspects in all people and circumstances no matter what.

18. Having a Bad Day? Do It Anyway!

We all have bad moods but it shouldn’t be an excuse to stop everything. Giving into a bad mood just stop-starts your life, slowing success way down.

19. Sometimes Risky Business Is Needed

Calculated risks are a must for success. It’s about weighing the pros and cons while moving forward with that element of trust.

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20. Accept Challenge All the Time

Dealing with problems head-on is a must to be successful. Successful people also face challenges in order to improve themselves.

21. Make Your Own Luck

In the mindset of a successful person, there’s no such thing as ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. They take control to actively and consciously create their own best life.

22. Ignite Your Initiative

While many people are reactive, successful people are proactive – taking action before they have to.

23. Be the Master of Your Emotions

Being effective at managing emotions is key on the road to success. That’s not to say successful people don’t feel like we all do, but they’re just not slaves to their emotions.

24. Champion in Communication

Consciously working on effective communication skills gets anyone closer to success.

25. Plan Your Life Strategically

Successful people’s lives aren’t a clumsy series of unplanned events and outcomes, they methodically work at turning their plans into a reality.

26. Become Exceptional at What You Do

To become exceptional, you typically have to do things that most won’t. To become successful, hard decisions need to be made and acting on them is crucial.

27. Choose to Live Outside of Your Comfort Zone

While many people are pleasure junkies and avoid pain and discomfort at all costs, successful people understand the value and benefits of working through the tough stuff that most would avoid.

28. Live by Core Values

Successful people firstly identify their core values and what’s important to them, then do their best to live a life that reflects these values.

29. Realize Money Isn’t Everything

Money and success are not interchangeable and the most successful people understand this. Putting money on a pedestal and equating it to success is a dangerous mindset to have. Success comes in many forms.

30. Don’t Get Carried Away

Successful people understand the importance of discipline and self-control and as a result they are happy to take the road less travelled.

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31. Self-Worth Is Not Tied to Success

Successful people are secure. They do not derive their self-worth from what they own, who they know, where they live or what they look like.

32. Kindness Breeds Kindness (And Success)

Generosity and kindness is a common trait among long-term successful people. It’s important to take pleasure in helping others achieve.

33. More Humility, Less Arrogance

Successful people are humble and happy to admit and apologize for mistakes. This is because they’re confident in their ability. They are happy to learn from others and happy to make others look good rather than seek their own personal glory.

34. Change Opens New Doors

People who are successful are adaptable and embrace change, while the majority are creatures of comfort and habit. They are comfortable with, and embrace, the new and the unfamiliar.

35. Success Requires a Healthy Body

It’s not just how you think, it’s about how you show up for success. Successful people understand the importance of being physically well, not for vain reasons but because being in tiptop condition creates a better personal life for success.

36. Laziness Just Doesn’t Exist

Successful people are never considered lazy. Yes, they can relax when they need to, but working hard is their game.

37. Resilience by the Bucket Load

When difficulty strikes, most would throw in the towel, but successful people are just warming up.

38. Feedback Is Just Another Chance to Improve

How people react to feedback determines their potential for success. Being open to constructive criticism and acting on it to improve is most seen in those who are successful.

39. Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

If people are hanging out with toxic and negative people, then they need to take a look at themselves. Successful people hang out with others who are positive and supportive.

40. Can’t Control It? Forget It

Successful people don’t invest time or emotional energy into things which they have no control of.

41. Swim Against the Tide

Successful people are not people-pleasers and they don’t need constant approval from others in order to move ahead.

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42. Alone Time Is Valuable Time

More self-worth means being more comfortable with your own company. Successful people are more happy and see the value in spending time alone.

43. Self-Standard Is Higher Than Most

Everyone has a choice to set high standards for themselves. Successful people do this, which in turn produces greater commitment, more momentum, a better work ethic and of course, better results.

44. Failure Isn’t Rationalized

While many use age, health, lack of time, ‘bad luck’, or lack of opportunity to explain away their failure, the key to success is finding a way to succeed despite facing these challenges.

45. Down Time Is an Important Part of a Routine

Having an off switch and taking time to do things that make them happy is a common trait of a successful person. Take a look at here The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

46. Career Isn’t Who You Are, It’s What You Do

Successful people know their career isn’t their identity. They are multi-dimensional and don’t define themselves by their job.

47. Be Interested in Only the Path of Resistance

While most people look for the easiest way or the shortcut, successful people are more interested in the most effective way. They look for the course of action which will produce the best results over the long term.

48. Follow Through

Many spend their life starting things that they never finish, but successful people get the job done. Even when the excitement and the novelty has worn off they still follow through and finish.

49. Invest in All Your Dimensions

We’re not just physical and psychological beings, but emotional and spiritual creatures as well. Successful people consciously work at being healthy and productive on all levels.

50. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

To obtain success, it’s important to practice what you preach. Successful people don’t talk about the theory, they live the reality.

So there you have it, a summary of what I’ve learned from self-help books. But of course, you need to start taking actions so you will get closer to success too.

Bonus: 5 Bad Habits To Quit

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Featured photo credit: Juan Jose via unsplash.com

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